By Ricardo Guzman
Whole Foods CEO John Mackey is ready to retire in September. The billionaire entrepreneur, conscious capitalist and bestselling author transformed the grocery business in the U.S., and now Amazon is ready for the next step
Whole Foods CEO John Mackey will retire next year and step down from the company he founded, leaving behind a legacy that has transformed the grocery business in the U.S.
The story started back in 1978 when John and Renee Lawson borrowed $45,000 from family and friends to open a vegetarian store in Austin, Texas. That idea that some hippie kids had almost 43 years ago turned into a billionaire business with 530 stores across three countries.
John is a billionaire entrepreneur known for his low-profile style and being away from luxury. He is also a conscious capitalist, bestselling author, vegan and animal rights advocate.
Considered one of the most influential promoters in the organic food movement in the U.S., John describes himself as a “perpetual optimistic” and thinks of the company he is leaving behind as his own child.
“Honestly, it’s very hard to retire from a company that I have helped to create, nourish and grow for 44 years when I leave,” John said in the letter sent to employees September last year. “As a co-founder of Whole Foods, I’ve often explained my relationship to the company with a parent-child metaphor. As a parent, I have always loved Whole Foods with all my heart.
“I have done my best to instill strong values, a clear sense of higher purpose beyond profits, and a loving culture that allows the company and all our interdependent stakeholders to flourish. All parents reach a time when they must let go and trust that the values imparted will live on within their children. That time has nearly come for me and for Whole Foods.”
It was indeed an emotional moment for John and everyone close to him. Despite leaving the day to day running of the company, he will remain a member of the board of directors.
FROM 19 EMPLOYEES TO AMAZON
The foundation of Whole Foods as we know it came in 1980 when John and Renee were joined by Craig Weller and Mark Skiles to open their first store in Austin with 19 employees. After years of growth and acquisitions, the company became a hallmark for a growing consumer base that was moving away from industrialized foods.
For Whole Foods, 2017 was a year of deep transformation after the organic products expert was purchased by e-commerce giant Amazon, a move that literally rattled markets and dropped the stock of retail companies.
After Whole Foods reported sixth consecutive quarters of declining sales, Amazon announced the acquisition in June for $13.7 billion, ending months of struggle and sending the company’s stock price to soar.
Five years after that purchase, Amazon reported fiscal 2022 first-quarter results where physical-store sales, most of which are from Whole Foods, rose 17.1% year over year to $4.59 billion. Amazon focused its efforts into increasing Amazon Prime memberships with the new organic food menu in the company’s loyalty program. The Jeff Bezos company also started learning about consumers’ habits.
The retail giant, which has almost no physical stores, was about to launch a larger, more mainstream grocery chain. Today, new stores are popping up around the country under the Amazon Fresh banner.
The Seattle-based company is set to open new Amazon Fresh stores in Paramus, N.J., and Oceanside, N.Y. These two will join the 12 Amazon Fresh stores offering Just Walk Out “skip the checkout lane” functionality.
And this story might be only the start for a new era of organic food and how groceries are sold. Just last April, Whole Foods in Austin, Texas started allowing their consumers to make purchases by scanning their palm. The system uses the Amazon One system connected to a customer’s debit or credit card making it easier to make purchases.
AMAZON EXECUTIVES DEPARTING
John Mackey’s departure from Whole Foods comes as Amazon has recently seen a list of executives exiting the company, starting with founder and executive chairman Jeff Bezos, who stepped down as CEO in July, leaving the former cloud boss Andy Jassy at the company’s steering wheel.
Today, Amazon is becoming just like Whole Foods, the top player in the organic and natural food markets and John Mackey is ready for what comes next.
In the now famous letter, John said he’s “ready to pursue some of my other life passions.” He also thinks Jason Buechel will have a successful new role replacing him as CEO after being COO for the company in the crucial Amazon era.
It seems that the future looks promising for everyone involved in this story.
After learning from Whole Foods, Amazon is ready to upgrade the organic and healthy food business. For customers, the reward will be having better access to better food, and for John, life will be a new opportunity to perpetuate optimism, while practicing yoga in his 720-acre Texas ranch with his wife Deborah, where they will be eating very healthy organic food.